"Camp is for black kids."
-No one ever
I'm not one for fluff so let's get right to it. Camp, summer camp, is not for black kids. And I'll tell you why. For one, it's off in the woods, which is historically not a great place for Black people. The likelihood of a black staff member or counselor with any knowledge of black-kid hair and skin maintenance is slim to none. Thirdly, it involves sending your child off with typically white strangers for long periods, with little to no information about said strangers except that they are probably white.
I find it important to note I don't say that camp is not for black kids from a lack of personal experience.
The emotional and social implications of being black at camp are unspeakable. I remember my first summer as a black camp counselor. Any black kid I saw, I wanted them to be my camper because I knew that their white camp counselors would have no idea what they were going through. I remember being asked if I were in romantic relationships with the other black staff members simply because we were black. I Remember campers thinking that my black campers were my children or otherwise related to me. I remember being asked if I was related to Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks because these were the only Black people that my white campers could recall off the top of their heads. I remember being told by an 8-year-old camper that I needed to die because I was black. I remember one of my black campers being humiliated in the bathrooms because she didn't wash her hair every day. I remember campers asking me if I ever took a shower because I was so brown, I looked dirty all the time.
I remember thinking that, though I loved my kids and the staff and I loved being able to experience God in His creation, summer camp could not be a place for me, a black kid.
Almost all summer camp directors would love to scream the praises of their diverse staff and inclusive community, though most of them still fail to have enough diverse staffing and campers to adequately represent the population of their community. According to recent United States child statistics, only 50% of the kids in America as of 2021 were non-Hispanic whites. However, according to current American Camp Association statistics, almost 70% of camps reported that 70% of their kids were white, non-Hispanic. On paper, that is 20% too few non-white kids.
Then there is Camp in the Community, where 58% of campers whose families chose to disclose their race were white. You see, the difference between CITC and many other camps can be boiled down to one word: Intentionality. CITC offers people something that they may not get in their day-to-day lives: a choice. A $2000 overnight camp in the wilderness is not a choice for most people in the areas that CITC serves. But do you know what is a choice: A free camp, with the same experiences, down the road in a community that families are familiar with.
You have to be intentional about where you recruit your campers and staff and volunteers.
Because you can't make black campers and black staff show up out of thin air, or force people to be comfortable in a space where they've historically felt unwelcome. You could try to spin your data to make yourself look better or put photos of the 1-2 children of color you had at camp on every brochure, but that's insincere and inaccurate.
What you can do is go to schools where there are black kids and you can go to neighborhoods where there are Black people. You can appeal to host churches and partner churches in majority-black areas with black kids and offer these families a real chance to send their kids to camp. You can hire diverse staff intentionally. You can have open and honest conversations with your team about the different experiences people of color have at camp and elsewhere and do the work to create an intentionally inclusive community where everyone has a voice and where people of color matter. There is a strength and beauty in having staff that can socially and culturally relate to the demographic of campers that you want to have. It's a necessity.
You should not have to be wealthy and white to go to summer camp or learn about God, nature, your community, and the environment.
You should not have to be wealthy and white to learn that your life has value and meaning and that you are loved,
important and deserving of all the good and beautiful things that life has to offer.
And most importantly, you shouldn't have to be wealthy and white to make a s'more.
It is of grave importance to note that while it is beautiful to celebrate our differences, the curls in our hair, the earth tones of our skin, the colors of our eyes and voices, the strength and valor of our histories and names. It is just as important to realize that we are the same in many ways.
Black kids still need sunscreen.
We still take baths.
We sing songs and dance.
We have good days and bad ones.
We deserve love and respect, patience and kindness.
We deserve warm fuzzies and campfires.
We deserve s'mores.
Written By Danaya, CITC Site Coordinator